In what seemed like a 30-second stretch of last night’s disappointing loss at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers had three key players go down, or become slowed by injury. All three, Kobe Bryant (elbow), Dwight Howard (shoulder/back), and Metta World Peace (foot/ankle) pushed through it, but each were noticeably slowed down the stretch of that 122-105 loss. One may think facing a 21-win Hornets team couldn’t come at a better time, but I caution anyone with that line of thought.
Not only are the Hornets playing in front of their home crowd, but they are coming off a night’s rest and will undoubtedly utilize a visit from the Los Angeles Lakers as the proverbial “playoff game” of their season. That said, there will obviously be no rest for the old, tired, and weary, as the Lakers must find a way to match and exceed the energy and effort this young team is certain to bring. Unlike against the Thunder, Coach D’Antoni is going to have to find the mix that will best limit/control the transition and tempo.
Frontcourt: Anthony Davis’ 12.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks (per game) may not be as flashy or impressive as some of the other rookies (namely, Portland’s Damian Lillard), but if you’ve watched Davis’ game continue to develop, he’s still shown flashes and signs of why the Hornets used last year’s #1 pick on him. With a soft touch from the outside and improving footwork around the basket, Davis is has the total package. Robin Lopez has been steady for them, but can be effective if you don’t keep him off the backboards.
Ryan Anderson has been one of the league’s best weapons off the bench. An intriguing free agent addition given the drafting of Davis, Anderson has gone on to prove his last couple seasons alongside Dwight Howard (in Orlando) were no fluke. The sharpshooting PF is averaging 16.7 points off the bench, and grabbing 6.4 rebounds per game while making just under 40 percent of his 7+ attempts from beyond the arc per game.
Lakers Nation may remember Al-Farouq Aminu from his days with the Clippers. At just about seven points and eight rebounds per game, Aminu is an all-out effort player, that must be monitored at all times when he’s on the court. Metta World Peace and Earl Clark will have their hands full attempting to keep Aminu off the backboards and definitely must limit his activity in the open court.
Backcourt: This is a rare case where the starting point guard, Greivis Vasquez (6’6″), is significantly taller than his 6’3″ backcourt mate Eric Gordon. Even though Gordon can be an explosive player when healthy, it would not surprise me to see Coach D’Antoni decide a cross-match may be in order depending upon how the Hornets decide to attack. Regardless of their record, this is a dangerous tandem if permitted to dictate tempo in transition, or if the Lakers fail to properly defend the perimeter.
Rookie guard Austin Rivers hasn’t had quite the impact some of us may have expected, following his lone year at the University of Duke. While he’s shooting .536 percent from the field over his last five games, he’s struggled to manage shooting .365 percent throughout the year. That said, being that he’s publicly acknowledged looking up to Kobe Bryant (as so many of the younger guards have), you can expect Rivers to bring a maximum effort.
Keys To Victory:
Dictate Tempo, Don’t Permit Them To Turn It Into A Track Meet- We’ve seen what happens to this team when they attempt to adapt their game plan to that of another team. To be honest, one of the things I respected most about Phil Jackson’s philosophy was the fact that he preferred to dictate the pace and style of the game according to the Lakers’ strengths rather than adjusting the approach depending upon the opponent.
Crash The Boards On Defense, Match Tenacity- Even though the Lakers technically won the rebounding battle last night (46/42), it sure didn’t seem as though they could locate a rebound or second chance at any point when they truly needed it. They were thoroughly outplayed beneath and at the rim, and cannot afford to let the Hornets bully them in the same fashion. I would never recommend dirty play of any kind, but I will say the Lakers could use a bit of the tenacity and toughness they’ve shown flashes of during their most recent 13-6 stretch.
Establish The Paint, Limit Turnovers- The Lakers cannot afford to have Dwight Howard and Earl Clark combine for 4-15 shooting with seven turnovers and expect to win. I’m willing to consider it an anomaly, if they can simply be more assertive/explosive with their activity near/at the rim tonight against the Hornets. They cannot afford to outguess themselves by hesitant moves, and excessive pump fakes that simply permit the defense to set and establish itself. The guards must find a way to feed the paint, but once the big men receive the ball, it is left upon them to do something positive with it. I believe they will respond with a better and more authoritative effort tonight.
Los Angeles Lakers (30-31) vs. New Orleans Hornets (21-40)
5:oo PM PST, March 6, 2013
New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA
TV: Time Warner Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Hornets’ Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Greivis Vasquez
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Robin Lopez
Key Reserves: G Austin Rivers G Roger Mason Jr.